Monday, November 3, 2008

The Bigger Gun part I

The bigger gun. This is one of the first and most common challenges offered by those who are new to the idea of anarcho-capitalism. It is asked, in one form or another, whether in a system devoid of the protections afforded to the citizens of the state anyone would be safe from the violence perpetrated upon them by others. Essentially, the argument is that only the presence of the state, and its massive law enforcement apparatus, spares us from being constantly preyed upon by violent men.

First, let's examine the premise. The proponent of this position is arguing that without government to protect us, evil men would immediately take whatever they desired through force, and there would be no way to stop them, because no matter your force of arms, someone with a bigger gun could always overcome you. It is only the overwhelming force of the state, through its police and military might, which prevents this from happening immediately. Right now. This very minute.

On its face, this seems a frightening proposition. Especially to a people who have been taught most of their lives to appeal to a government authority when confronted with danger. In school, when confronted with a bully, tell your teacher. In life, when confronted with violence, call the police. In business, when confronted with injustice, write your congressman. The lesson being constantly taught and reinforced is that the government is the only legitimate authority empowered to resolve conflict. And, having been taught thusly, it is understandable that people would accept this as fact. So, lacking that government authority to whom they must appeal, and seeing no other alternative, they are afraid.

This argument usually begins with the proposal that your neighbor, lacking resources, would use force to seize yours. Then, it is extrapolated from that point to involve the next business, city, state, and country over, until we are continuously preyed upon by criminals, terrorists, and mobs, which are then of course preyed upon by bigger, stronger, criminals, terrorists, and mobs, until all mankind is embroiled in constant violence and chaos. And only the government prevents this.

This position is somehow inviting to many who are antagonistic to the idea of anarcho-capitalism. But its premise is deeply flawed. It would seem that proponents of this argument believe that society is so rife with evil men that only the “thin blue line” protects every day citizens from being victims of crime, and our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are constantly in jeopardy. If this is indeed the case, it would seem to make the argument against central authority, not for it.

If society is so filled with evil men, surely they would quickly overpower any government, especially a representative one, and so assume authority to rape and pillage under color of law. If instead, there is no such glut of evil men, then the argument fails on its face, and, at least with regards to this argument, we have proven no need for central authority.

There are evil men, and there will continue to be evil men regardless of the type of society in which we live, this is reality. The idea that most men are evil, and that evil is only held in check by the constant threat of state authority is simply not reality. All people spend the vast majority of their lives in a state of anarchy. No one is holding a gun to your head and telling you what to eat, whom to marry, where to work, and when to sleep. You make thousands of decisions, every day, with no consideration what so ever of the possible government response. And while you may even do some greedy things, and some mean spirited things, and some dishonest things, you are not raping, murdering, and defrauding your fellow man with your every thought and deed.

The idea that it is government which prevents violence, and that without it crime would be rampant, is unsupported by several facts. Firstly, any person with more force than you can take your rights away now. Right now. If someone walked up to you with a gun and demanded the computer on which you are reading this, no government would prevent them. They could take your property, and kill you, and no one will protect you. It is your responsibility, and only yours, to protect yourself. Always. The Supreme Court has ruled on this. It is established law, and it is the natural order. You must defend yourself.

So in reality, the government doesn't protect you, it instead arrives after you've been the victim of a crime, and investigates that crime and attempts to capture the perpetrator. Some would argue that it doesn't even do that, but for now, we'll grant the premise that they are legitimately trying to solve crimes. However, in reality, the vast majority of crimes, even violent crimes, go unsolved. In fact, nearly 80% of crimes go unsolved, with only 55% of violent and 84% or property crimes being solved. So even if we alter the argument from the government preventing crime to the government resolving crime, we see that we are still not adequately served by the state.

So then the argument must shift once again to the idea that the threat of falling into that small minority of crimes which the government solves is a deterrent against criminal action. However, if this is true, then why do we have prisons all over the country which are overflowing with criminals? Either the possibility of capture is a poor deterrent, or we are to believe that it is a highly effective deterrent, and there are simply a huge number of potential criminals who behave out of fear. In fact, studies show that the threat of arrest and imprisonment is a poor deterrent, notice specifically where it says,

“None of the analyses found imprisonment to reduce recidivism. The recidivism rate for offenders who were imprisoned as opposed to given a community sanction were similar. In addition, longer prison sentences were not associated with reduced recidivism. In fact, the opposite was found. Longer sentences were associated with a 3% increase in recidivism.”

In fact, specific preventative action, such as closed circuit cameras, on site security, and armed citizens, is a better deterrent against criminal action. Take special note of the table where alarm systems, armed citizens, and security cameras, all rank higher amongst convicted criminals as deterrents than active police patrols do.

Not only is government obviously an unreliable defender of your rights, the idea that crime is rampant is also false. In fact, in 2007, the estimated chance of being the victim of a violent crime was less than five tenths of one percent. Yet the fear that many people have of being the victim of this crime is so pervasive, that they are willing to trade freedom for the illusion of security. In reality, the number of deaths caused by governments throughout the twentieth century alone surpasses a quarter billion, dwarfing even the most inflated criminal statistics, and far beyond the scope of even the most dedicated criminal mind.

So we see that it is not the state which protects us from and prevents crime, it is in fact our own actions. So what actions could we take which would prevent the rampant crime which people fear? What actions are people taking already every day?

What actions would you take to defend your life, or your spouse's, or your children's?

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